Labour’s Chuka Umunna slams royal wedding camp
The rise and rise of Chuka Umunna, who has questioned south London’s royalist campsite
It takes a brave - some might say foolhardy - politician to raise their head above the parapet and express anything less than 110 per cent support for the forthcoming nuptials between Prince William and Kate Middleton. But Labour's Chuka Umunna has done just that.
The high-flying 32-year-old, who was returned as MP for Streatham last May and is already parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to Ed Miliband, has questioned plans to turn Clapham Common - half of which sits in his constituency - into a temporary campsite for thousands of monarchists visiting London for the April 29 wedding.
"I was delighted when I heard the happy news about Prince William's engagement to Kate Middleton," he said, "but I have deep reservations about this event and have already been contacted by concerned local residents about it."
The proposed Camp Royale has already been agreed in principle by Labour-led Lambeth council, and would see a campsite of 1,806 tents with a capacity of 4,000 people. But Umunna has cited concerns from constituents about the size of the camp and the idea that it should be established for a full three days.
"It is quite unprecedented for something on this scale to take place over three days on our Common, with people camping on it for the duration we do not want to see Clapham Common turned into a Glastonbury style venue albeit slightly posher with all that would involve and the inevitable disruption to the daily lives of my constituents."
Umunna has received plenty of local support for his comments, suggesting that the explosion of joy that some newspapers insist is sweeping the nation is perhaps not as widespread as assumed.
Whether or not he's judged the public mood correctly, it's another eye-catching intervention from a man who is tipped by many to be a future Labour leader - and even prime minister.
Born and educated in the constituency he represents - a novelty in these days of parachute candidates - Umunna's rise to prominence has been vertiginous, getting him dubbed 'The British Obama' by the Independent on Sunday.
The grandson of High Court judge Sir Helenus Milmo and nephew of libel lawyer Patrick Milmo, Umunna boasts English, Nigerian and Irish roots. He studied law at Manchester University and became a solicitor for the leading international law firm Herbert Smith. Focusing on employment law, he went on to Rochman Landau where he represented individuals and small companies.
Running alongside his career, Umunna was also active in left-wing circles, serving on the steering committee of the pressure group Compass. He also spoke regularly and with local knowledge - as trustee of the 409 Project youth charity - of the murders of teens caught up in gangster culture. His suggestion in the Guardian in 2007 that wealth inequalities and consumerist culture were dooming inner-city youth brought him to the attention of many.
He fought off stiff competition for the seat of retiring MP Keith Hill in 2008, and upon his election last year set about making his mark - and ruffling some feathers - in Parliament.
Elected to the Treasury select committee, he's brought his forensic legal mind to bear on the task of holding the coalition to account on its plans for the economy.
After Ed Miliband's victory in September's leadership election he appointed Umunna as his PPS, a key role which acts as a conduit between the party and the leader's office and which puts the Streatham MP in contact with every wing of the party - a tremendously useful place to cultivate relationships.
So, can Chuka make it to the very top?
He's made a few enemies in his journey so far - his self-belief is such that there have been inevitable accusations of arrogance. And with his striking good looks and his cool non-Westminster activities - he's a keen house music DJ and is rumoured to be stepping out with fellow Ed Miliband groupie Luciana Berger - Umunna is an obvious target.
The well-connected Labour blogger and journalist Dan Hodges wrote a perceptive piece last week tipping Umunna and fellow 2010-intake newbie Stella Creasy as leaders-in-waiting. "Chuka is not an MP. He is a concept. A lifestyle choice," Hodges playfully noted, identifying the vague feeling that the idea of Chuka is more important than the reality.
Addressing the arrogance question, Hodges quotes an associate of the MP's who suggests that "the best approach is for all of us around him is to keep taking the piss out of him. When he came into a room soon after he was elected we all stood up. He got the message".
The path to the Labour leadership is a rocky one that has claimed many others who were born to it. As Hodges observed about Walthamstow MP Creasy, who is quietly "rising without trace" like Tony Blair did, Chuka Umunna might be playing his hand too early. ·
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